Some athletes find their way to baseball but La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad) center fielder Mickey Moniak was born to play the game.
Begin with the alliterative name that reminds one of the great Yankees center fielder Mickey Mantle (though Moniak wasn’t named for Mantle). Add in lineage, with his father, Matt, playing baseball for San Diego State and his grandfather, Bill, playing in the Boston Red Sox organization, passing along hitting tips he got from Ted Williams, his one-time hitting coach.
Moniak has as many extra-base hits as he does singles this season, going into Tuesday’s game with El Camino (Oceanside). In 96 at-bats, he’s hitting .523 with 22 singles, six homers, four doubles, and a ridiculous 12 triples.
He would have more homers but for LCC’s cavernous dimensions for a high school field: 320 feet down the line, 400 feet in center and 415 in the gaps.
“Any ball in the gap, I’m looking to get three bases,” Moniak said. “Especially at LCC, where we have a pretty big yard. It is probably one of the biggest in San Diego. Sometimes, when you play in a small yard, you get too big and it messes up your swing, but here, I just get my swing dialed in. I love to be aggressive. It’s a lot easier to score from third than from second.”
He said playing for USA Baseball and other national competitions this past summer helped boost his confidence.
“The one thing I try to do is stay within myself,” Moniak said. “Obviously playing with all the tough competition this summer helped me. I think think playing with all the top guys, reassured me that I could play with those guys. Over the summer, there would be 50, 60 scouts at every event you went to. It’s good to have an experience like that. The main thing I’ve learned is you have to have fun. It’s called play ball, not work ball, my USA (Baseball) coach said. You have to enjoy yourself.”
The UCLA signee is expected to go in the first round of the June Major League Baseball draft and though he’ll be one of the youngest players in the draft (he turned 18 last week) he is considered to be the best pure high school hitter. At 6-2 and 200 pounds, he’s expected to hit for more power as he matures.
As a freshman, he hit .304. As a sophomore, he hit .426 with 29 runs and 28 RBI and was named the state’s sophomore of the year. As a junior, he hit .424 with 26 RBI and 26 runs and was an all-state selection. This past summer, he helped lead the U.S. 18-under National Team to the World Baseball Softball Confederation gold medal at the World Cup in Japan.
There’s little question that he can stay in center field. All you have to do is look at over-the-shoulder catch he made at Long Beach State’s Blair Field in the Area Code Games last August, a play that Willie Mays would be proud of:
“He’s going to be a leadoff guy and a center fielder wherever he goes,” La Costa Canyon coach Justin Machado said. “His first step as a defender is amazing. He has a nose for the ball and can read swings pretty well.”
Moniak says patrolling center field keeps his hitting on an even keel.
“I just want to help my team win,” he said. “If I have a bad at-bat. I still have to go to center field and make a good play. It definitely puts things in perspective.”
La Costa Canyon was the state Open Division runner-up last season and is 22-5 this season. The Mavericks have had 11 players taken in the MLB draft since 2002. Even in that group, Moniak stands out. He is on track to break the team season record of 46 RBI and his own team record of 53 hits and has doubled the Mavericks’ record for triples in a season.
“I’ve had a lot of draft picks come through here,” Machado said. “What’s most surprising is the way he’s put the team first. His main objective is to win as a team. His only objective is for us to win a CIF title.”
“I’m just trying to make the most of it,” Moniak said. “We’re playing well right now. The first thing is to win. When you’re winning, it’s fun. With all the attention of the draft, having my friends around and having this team around me has helped put that behind me for those seven innings.”
He has a patient left-handed swing and rarely seems to over-stride at the plate. He keeps in mind hitting tips his grandfather gleaned from the Splendid Splinter.
“He always talked about, with an 0-0 count and the pitcher throws a fastball on the corner, let him have it,” Moniak said. “At 0-1, if he makes another good pitch, let him have it and then at 0-2, get on the plate and choke up a bit and put the ball in play. Until you have two strikes on you, you own the pitcher and that’s been my mentality ever since I was four years old.”